Phillies Sign Placido Polanco

The Phillies have signed Placido Polanco, 34 years old, to a three-year, $18 million deal with a mutual option for a fourth year. Last off-season, on December 12, GM Ruben Amaro signed Raul Ibanez (then 36 years old) to a three-year $32.5 million contract. We are starting to see a trend.

The free agent market for third basemen isn’t exactly thin — Polanco, Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Mark DeRosa, and Joe Crede are just a few examples of players who could have manned the hot corner for the Phillies. Money, of course, was the main factor in determining which of those athletes would get the honor of playing for a team that has appeared in back-to-back World Series.

The Phillies had a payroll of about $130 million in 2009, and currently have about $110 million on the books already for 2010. However, given the recent run of success, the organization did remarkably well at the box office as 3.6 million fans bought tickets to Phillies games at Citizens Bank Park last year. 90% of the home games (73 of 81) were sold out. There should be some room for an increase in payroll given their financial success even despite the state of the U.S. economy.

The signing of Polanco, given the apparent desire to pennypinch, is confusing because Amaro did not give the market a chance to play out, much like last season with Ibanez. The only reason one should jump out so quickly to sign a player is if he is going to be pursued heavily by many other teams or if the player can be signed cheaply. Polanco doesn’t fall under either criteria; he is simply a mediocre infielder who hasn’t played third base since 2005, and hasn’t played 200 innings at the position since 2002.

As for his production, Polanco has regressed offensively since 2007. His wOBA has gone from .371 to .339 to .321. For comparison, in ’09, Justin Morneau had a .371 wOBA, Erick Aybar was at .339, and Kurt Suzuki finished at .321. As his wOBA has fallen, so has his walk rate, and his strikeout rate has risen. His OBP fell over 50 points from ’07, which should be an alarming trend considering they did not sign Polanco for his power.

Defensively, Polanco is good… at second base. He won Gold Gloves at second base in ’07 and ’09, matching up with his UZR/150 of 12.0 and 11.0 respectively. However, the Phillies signed him to play third base, a position he hasn’t played since ’05. The only season in which there is a large sample of innings and UZR data, 2002, Polanco had a UZR/150 of 7.8, which isn’t bad. A lot changes in eight years, though. It’s unlikely Polanco still has the range, agility, and arm strength he had eight years ago.

The Phillies are a good base running team under the tutelage of Davey Lopes. Fortunately, Polanco is still a productive runner despite his age, and was on an incline up until last year.

Taken altogether, Polanco was worth a bit over three wins the past two seasons. FanGraphs valued him at about $14 million in each year. For a one year deal at $6 million, the Polanco signing would have been acceptable. However, the Phillies have married themselves for at least three seasons to a 34-year-old whose bat is on the decline and hasn’t played third base in four years.

There are many reasons why Phillies fans should be unhappy with Ruben Amaro right now, but we can’t go back and undo what has happened. Now, we just have to hope that Amaro and the various eyes and ears around him saw something that we bloggers and fans did not see, as with Ibanez. For a team that can easily make a third consecutive appearance in the World Series in 2010, adding Polanco is not the kind of move that will help them surpass the Yankees.